Word of the potential cancellation of next year’s Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show — traditionally one of this region’s most reliable harbingers of spring — came as a huge shock on Wednesday. Though the Penobscot County Conservation Association later amended their president’s report to say that no decision had been made on the show’s status, make no mistake: The 2021 edition is in jeopardy.
Woody Higgins, who served as the show director for years before stepping aside in 2019, explained that as a member of the show committee, he had told the PCCA’s board that there would have to be a drastic change in order for the event to be staged.
And that’s just too bad.
For many of us, the show has turned into a reunion of sorts, and is sometimes the only time each year that we’re able to touch base with friends and outdoors enthusiasts who live far from greater Bangor. We schmooze, tell tales, buy raffle tickets on all kinds of outdoor goods, and spend a weekend around others who share our love for hunting, fishing or (believe it or not) homemade jerky and ice cream.
Yes, the show has more than a few food vendors who keep us all well fed.
In the grand scheme of things, of course, a single outdoor expo isn’t all that important.
Others have watched their senior years of high school or college — and all the related festivities — disappear. Some have lost their jobs, or had to close down their businesses entirely. And let’s not forget, more than 175,000 Americans have died as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
When it comes down to it, I’ve got to count myself in the “fortunate, but inconvenienced” category. I still have a job I love, and though I don’t get to go to the office and interact with my colleagues on a daily basis, I still get to share stories with BDN readers. I’m healthy, as are members of my family. I’m lucky. No doubt about it.
But make no mistake: The prospect of another idea without the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show saddens me.
I remember first attending the show in the early 1970s with my mom, dad, brother and sister, when it was held at the Bangor Auditorium. I was intrigued by the indoor “trout pond,” and watched as other kids caught trout, then carried them around the venue in a plastic bag full of water.
And I recall being amazed when a fly fisher stood on a raised platform up in the grandstand and made pinpoint casts to the stage far below. Years later, an older show attendee told me he’d been there, too. He also told me the flycaster was a guy named Ted Williams. You might know him better as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
For the past 18 years — up until the developing pandemic forced the cancellation of this year’s event the day before it was to begin — I helped staff the BDN booth at the show, which is now staged in Orono.
The show has always given us the chance to meet with hundreds of BDN readers, and to hear what they’d like to see more of (or less of) in our pages. Along with colleague Aislinn Sarnacki, I’ve looked forward to “show season,” and the opportunities that the Eastern Maine show in particular provides each year.
Spending time chatting with legendary guide Jim Carter about his beloved Munsungan Hunting and Fishing Club each year until his death was a highlight that I cherish. And when biologist Randy Cross “sprung” me from the 2014 show with an invitation to visit a backyard den where four black bears had been found, that episode etched its spot into my best-in-show moments.
I’ve watched countless kids tie their first flies, and talked Atlantic salmon conservation with some of the most passionate anglers you’ll find anywhere.
Simply put, the show has become an important part of my life, professionally and personally.
Depending on what happens with the pandemic, and whether we can safely stage large events come spring, that show may well be cancelled again.
For me, and hundreds of vendors and attendees, that means that a few more chances to make memories will be lost.
Here’s hoping we get some good news by then.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.